The Chicago Blackhawks came into the NHL season burdened with the expectations normally associated with a team that is coming off of a Stanley Cup championship run, but somehow they have borne those challenges and are still at the top of their game.
Now, with the season officially halfway over, it’s time to ask a simple question: who is the first half MVP for the Blackhawks?
Here are our five nominees:
This list is alphabetical, but it still feels appropriate to have the Blackhawks’ leading scorer in the first nominee’s spot. Kane leads the team in goals with 23, and is also second on the team in assists with 30, just behind Duncan Keith in that category.
Perhaps more impressive about Kane’s overall numbers is the way that he has consistently excelled for the Hawks despite having a rotating cast of linemates around him. Kane creates space and opportunities thanks to his defensive ability, his instincts, and his speed, and no matter who is on the ice with him, he makes everyone around him better. That is the hallmark of an MVP, and Kane displays it regularly.
The Blackhawks’ defenseman is frequently being mentioned as a guy to watch in the Norris Trophy race, but it’s Keith’s offensive numbers that are really popping off the page this season.
In 41 games, Keith is averaging nearly a point per game, scoring three goals and adding 35 assists on the campaign. 15 of those points have come on the power play, and it’s Keith’s willingness to move the puck around and get it to the front of the net that has really put the team’s man-advantage unit on the right track.
Last year, Saad burst onto the scene in a big way for the Blackhawks, and he really proved during his rookie season that he belonged with the big boys.
This season has seen Saad avoid the dreaded sophomore slump, and he has even exceeded his great play from a year ago. He has 13 goals and 16 assists so far this year, and has seemed comfortable in virtually every spot that Joel Quenneville has put him. He has played on the top three lines for the Blackhawks, and he has also seen times on both the power play and the penalty killing unit as well.
His numbers may not be the gaudiest, but there is a good reason that Saad is considered a darkhorse contender for a spot on Team USA. That versatility and the way he has bought into the back-checking philosophy espoused by Quenneville have made him an attractive target, and he has the potential to become one of the Blackhawks’ top forwards in upcoming seasons.
Before the season, there were plenty of people who thought that Sharp could end up being a darkhorse candidate to make Canada’s Olympic roster, but after the way he’s been playing, it seems more likely than not that he’ll be heading to Sochi.
In the month of December alone, Sharp has scored 12 goals as the Blackhawks’ offense has continued to thrive, and overall for the year he has 22 goals and has chipped in 19 assists. He also leads the Blackhawks in shots on goal with 158.
Perhaps more important than Sharp’s raw numbers is what he brings to the team. The offense as a whole has been thriving lately, scoring at least five goals or more in 16 of their last 32 games, but it all starts with that top line, and Sharp has been driving the bus for them. He can make stellar defensive plays, has a great nose for when to break out on the rush, and has displayed some ridiculously quick hands this year.
Of course, no conversation would be complete without mentioning Toews, who is quietly having one of the best seasons of his career. He is one point shy of being a point-per-game guy for the Hawks, and his all-around play has been better than ever.
People love to discuss the defensive discipline that players like Kane and Saad have shown this season, but a big part of the reason that players are buying into that emphasis on two-way play is because of the example that Toews sets. He’s always willing to go into the corners and battle for the puck, and he is one of the league’s best players when it comes to coming up from behind players and stripping them of the puck as they head through the neutral zone.
Add to that his fantastic ability to win face-offs, and Toews unquestionably is the Hawks’ best player when it comes to checking all the boxes on the “intangibles” list.
And the Winner Is…..
Now, most people would say that Kane has been the MVP of the Blackhawks so far this season, and they have a very strong case. However, if you look for the guy who has had the most to do with the team’s run of success in the first 41 games of the slate, then the more appropriate answer would be Sharp.
As we stated earlier, he has been an integral part of the team’s first line, and he’s probably been the guy who has driven the offense forward the most. On a team full of stars, Sharp’s is shining the brightest right now, and so we give him the narrow edge over Kane.
What do you think Blackhawks fans? Did we get it right, or should Kane be the winner of this debate?